NMSU Men's Basketball Falls To USC 77-72 In Diamond Head Classic Title Game

Written By: NM State Athletic Dept.

HONOLULU, HI - Just like a battle between two heavy weights, the New Mexico State men’s basketball team and USC went toe-to-toe Monday evening at the Stan Sheriff Center in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic championship game with the Aggies falling in the final seconds of play to the Trojans 77-72.

After Zach Lofton drilled his sixth 3-pointer of the game, New Mexico State held on to its two-possession lead for the most of latter portion of the second-half.

Fast-forward to 2:05 remaining in the game when Eli Chuha pulled down an AJ Harris missed shot for the put-back to give NM State the 72-68 lead. A put-back and by USC’s Jordan McLaughlin and lay-in from Jonah Mathews on the next two possessions tied things up at 72-72 with 1:04 left to play.

With less than a minute to play and the ball, New Mexico State (11-3) ran its offense and had a good look at the rim from deep by Sidy N’Dir that rimmed out and gave USC (9-4) the ball with 22 seconds remaining. Out of the timeout, the eventual tournament MVP Bennie Boatwright found himself open thanks to double-screen saw him drain a long 3-ball to put the Trojans on top 75-72 with 4.2 seconds left to play.

A turnover on the ensuing inbounds by New Mexico State saw USC finish the game with a pair of free-throws and the 77-72 victory for its second Diamond Head Classic title since 2009.

New Mexico State came out firing against the Trojans in the first half, taking an early 7-0 lead after Jemerrio Jones knocked down both free-throws out of the USC timeout. However, USC countered with a 10-2 run of its own and took a 10-9 lead at the 14:38 media break thanks to a couple of triples.

The USC zone defense gave New Mexico State some fits in the heart of the first half and propelled itself into the lead with a 19-2 run before the Aggies made their move.

AJ Harris finally broke the scoring drought that lasted 5:12 for NM State with a nice pull-up floater in the paint. Despite scoring on the ensuing two possessions, USC was just a successful on its end of the floor as the two began to exchange jabs.

After a double technical was assessed to Chuha and USC’s Chimezie Metu, NM State got another basket thanks to a pair of offensive boards but trailed the Trojans 25-17 with 7:32 left in the first half.

From there, a 17-9 run by New Mexico State led by Zach Lofton’s four-straight 3-pointers cut the Trojan lead to 34-32 before Harris hit another floater at the free-throw line to send both teams into the break knotted up at 34.

Jemerrio Jones was everything the Aggies needed during that blitz from the Trojans, posting his eighth double-double at the half with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The senior was held in check in the second stanza due to cramping issued and finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Both teams exchanged blows to open the second-half, but the hot-handed of Lofton continued to propel New Mexico State along with Sidy N’Dir – who combined to score 21-of-25 points during a critical stretch for the Aggies.

Lofton had 16 of his 28 points come in the second-half, thanks to a 6-for-9 evening from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, AJ Harris added 12 points of his own while Chuha chipped in with six points and six rebounds on top of his defensive plays.

With the championship game at 4 p.m. (MT) and third-place game scheduled at 6:30 p.m. (MT) due to programming, an all-tournament team has not been named.

NM State was able to out-rebound the Trojans 30-25, including a 13-6 edge on the offensive glass that led to a 15-8 advantage in second-chance points…despite being undersized, the Aggies were able to out-rebound all three teams in the tournament…the Aggies also held an advantage over USC in the paint, outscoring the Trojans 36-22 in the paint…NM State also fed off of USC turnovers, converting 12 of them for 21 points…Lofton and Boatwright’s six 3-pointers set a new tournament record in the championship game – the previous high was four, set first in 2009 by “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson while with Washington State…USC was banged for just seven personal fouls compared to the NM State’s 16 times leading the Trojans to a perfect 14-of-14 on trips to the line while NM State went 6-of-8.

Aggie Head Coach Chris Jans

Overall thoughts on the game…
“Yeah, it was a pretty high-level game. Obviously disappointed in the final result. We couldn’t help them enough as a staff offensively and that falls on me. We couldn’t get them in the right sports. We struggled scoring the stretch and their length and athleticism certainly bothered us. Kind fo hunkered down defensively and made it difficult on us. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort. Our guys played with championship grit and a championship heart. We battled and battled and battled but then in the end Bennie Boatwright made some big shots that didn’t matter who was guarding him. He made some shots that are next level.”

The road trip continues for New Mexico State as it heads to the mainland for an 8 p.m. tilt against the Anteaters of UC Irvine on Thursday, Dec. 28, before heading back to the City of Crosses for a few days rest prior to starting Western Athletic Conference Play.